KITCHENER -- Many Olympic traditions have been scrapped or changed for 2021, due to high COVID-19 case numbers in Japan.

Carling Zeeman, a rower from Cambridge, is making her second appearance at the Games.

“I’m in Japan right now, and when we finally got here it was like: ‘Whoa, this is happening.’”

The Olympics were postponed a year, and are now taking place as Tokyo in under a state of emergency.

Zeeman says this year is very different from the last one she competed in.

“Everything about it is different. From the moment we stepped off of the plane to our daily routine right now. It’s just completely different than Rio or any regatta that I’ve been to.”

Zeeman says she’s tested daily for COVID, has to avoid close contact with others, and must wear a mask for much of the time despite having both her COVID-19 vaccinations.

No spectators are permitted at the events, and winning athletes will have to put medals around their own necks.

Once athletes are done competing, they are asked to leave within 48 hours.

“We have had nothing like this before,” says Angela Schneider, the director at the International Centre for Olympic Studies at Western University.

She describes this year’s Olympic Games as “truncated”, saying athletes aren’t able to explore the city they are in or cheer on their other teammates. However, being able to compete after so much uncertainty is already a big accomplishment.

“I would say, let’s cherish and celebrate the things we can, and respect and honour the limitations we absolutely have to respect because of health reasons,” says Schneider.

Amid all the new protocols and procedures, Zeeman says one things is very familiar.

“As soon as I get in my boat, nothing changes. It’s been the same as it always has, this year, last year, five years ago, ten years ago. My boat is my boat and I know what to do when I step in it.”

MORE: Our list of all the athletes in Southwestern Ontario competing at this year’s Olympic Games.